Jordan inches closer towards Russia amid fight v ISIS

Friday 27/11/2015
Jordan’s King Abdullah (C) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (R)

AMMAN - Talks between Jordanian King Abdullah II and Rus­sian President Vladimir Putin allowed Jordan a say in Russia’s war on the Islamic State (ISIS) while giving Russia leverage to press other Arab states to join its regional campaign against militants.
To both sides, however, that is not stepping on lines drawn by the United States, which wields con­siderable sway over Middle East governments and has long dictated policies it deemed suitable for its interests in the region, mainly up­holding Israel’s security.
A Jordanian official described the November 24th closed-door meet­ing between Putin and King Abdul­lah at the Russian Black Sea coastal city of Sochi as “very positive”.
The talks, however, were over­shadowed by the downing of a Rus­sian Su-24 military aircraft in Syria by an air-to-air missile from a Turk­ish plane. Putin said the Turkish ac­tion was a “stab in the back”.
Welcoming the Jordanian mon­arch, Putin invited other Arabs to join his campaign against ISIS and other militants.
“We are counting on the active participation of all the countries in the region in this struggle,” Putin said in a statement emailed to The Arab Weekly in Jordan.
“Obviously, we expect the in­ternational community to make an effort to join forces in the fight against this common evil.”
King Abdullah, a staunch US ally who also maintains close personal ties with Putin, raised “concerns” that a stepped-up Russian offensive in southern Syria straddling Jor­dan’s northern border “could trig­ger an influx of more refugees into the kingdom”, a Jordanian official said about the talks.
“Jordan is already overstretched as it hosts more than 1.4 million Syrian refugees”, nearly half of them registered with a UN refu­gee agency, while the remainder slipped into local communities and live off state services, the official added.
Jordan recently signed a security agreement with Moscow that al­lowed the kingdom to take part in Russian air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.
The deal guaranteed that Rus­sian bombing in southern Syria does not target a Western-backed rebel group, known as the Southern Front, which Jordan supports. It considers it a buffer that would ob­struct militants from reaching the Jordanian frontier.
The Russian Air Force stepped up bombings in recent days of targets in rebel-controlled towns in south­ern Syria, including Deraa, a city bordering Jordan that is run by the moderate rebel group backed by the kingdom.
The Jordanian government re­mained tight-lipped on the Russian bombing campaign, which started in Syria in September. But the king expressed his enthusiasm publicly on the Russian moves, saying they offered a renewed bid to defeat the militants.
Abdullah’s overt support of Pu­tin’s moves may concern Washing­ton, the largest bankroller to cash-strapped Jordan. The United States has spent more than $10 billion in the last five years to bolster Jor­dan’s fragile economy and boost its defences.
The congeniality may also put Abdullah at odds with regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Tur­key. Both oppose the Russian inter­vention in Syria and advocate the downfall of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Saudi Arabia, like many other Sunni Arab governments, is critical of Assad’s ruling Alawite minority, an offshoot of the rival Shia Islam. The Saudis see Assad as a surrogate of Iran, which is spreading its influ­ence in a region long dominated by Sunni governments.
Russia, a strong backer of Assad, insists on a gradual transition of power in Syria, leaving the Syrian president in power until elections determine who would rule.
Moscow is heading a loose Shia alliance that includes Iran, Iraq and Syria under a security pact that al­lows the four countries to share intelligence data on ISIS and other militants.
A Jordanian Royal Palace state­ment quoted Abdullah as telling Putin that his strong leadership could bring a solution to the Syrian crisis.
“I have said for many years that the only way for finding a political solution in Syria is with the strong role that both you and Russia play for a political solution for the Syrian people,” Abdullah said.
The king, whose country is squeezed between hotspots Iraq, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian ter­ritories, said he was determined to remain in any coalition fighting the militants. He called on the interna­tional community to unite against terrorism.
“I know that this is a fight that both you and I, our countries and many others in the world are de­termined to win,” Abdullah said to Putin. “Again, this is an opportu­nity for all of us in the international community to come together and take up this fight as part of a coordi­nated international body.”